Sunday, March 15, 2015

Space Harrier (Saturn)

Rail shooter
Checkpoints OFF
5 Difficulty levels
18 Stages
Ship speed fixed
- - - - - - -
Developed by Sega
Published by Sega in 1996

Hmm… So once again, Space Harrier. I had already beaten the arcade version available for the Playstation 2 and the port for the ill-fated 32X add-on, and here I am writing about another excellent (and of arcade-quality) adaptation for Sega’s emblematic rail shooter. Space Harrier is one of those absolute classics that appeared in every single home console because it was just too powerful a game to not be included in their libraries, I guess. I love my Sega Saturn, so beating it again feels like coming back home. Many thanks to the fellows from the RGF shmup league for choosing it as the most recent game in season 5. :)

Back in 1996, in Japan, Sega started re-releasing some of its classic arcade titles for the Saturn under the new label Sega Ages, and Space Harrier was the game chosen for volume 2. It’s a perfect and very straightforward port with no special contents whatsoever, not even the ability to activate autofire. As of today I think it’s one of the three retail console options to go if you’re looking for a definitive arcade conversion, the others being the Playstation 2 Sega Ages disc and a few obscure instances in the Dreamcast library. Space Harrier was also released in other regions for the Sega Saturn, albeit bundled with After Burner II and Out Run in a compilation titled simply Sega Ages Vol. 1 in Europe or just Sega Ages in North America. There was never a Vol. 2 in any of these regions.

Colored mushrooms... Yummy!

Okay, once I took my Japanese copy out of the shelf it was just a matter of re-familiarizing myself with the stages, the patterns and the swearing that always comes with each stupid screaming death against a bullet, a pillar, a cloud, a giant robot or a colored mushroom. I was welcomed back to the Fantasy Zone and systematically beaten down by the difficulty I already knew until emerging victorious after a few days. One of the advantages of returning to a familiar game is that all those tricky parts get a little easier, memory helping devise improved strategies for old challenges. There isn’t a single functional difference from the versions I played already, so if you want to know more about the gameplay please refer to what I wrote on the Playstation 2 or the 32X versions.

For now let’s babble about something different altogether: button mashing.

I’ll never favor button mashing over the comfort of an autofire device. I’m 38 years old and I can’t help the fact that my wrist joints love autofire. I don’t own any turbo controller for the Sega Saturn though, so I had to (once again) mash buttons with this particular version of Space Harrier. Despite the inherent mindless nature of button mashing, I must confess that this game isn’t that tough on button mashing unless you want to go on a killing rampage to score higher. Oh yes, arcade Space Harrier can be played leisurely, and is a nice fit for lowest-scoring challenges if you fancy something out of the ordinary. Just dodge and appreciate the trippy colored checkerboards, shoot and kill only when needed. Bam!

An honest credit that ends in stage 6
(courtesy of YouTube user Kenbotan さんのチャンネル)

But I digress, so back to button mashing. Since I wanted to obliterate every single bush and cloud, I had to develop a little technique in order to achieve better results. Initially I’d use only my thumb on button C (all lower buttons in the controller are used to fire), but then I started switching to the index finger on bosses to rest my thumb. When I began reaching later levels I got to the point where I could dissociate d-pad control from the act of mashing buttons, so I rested the controller on my thigh while mashing the index and middle fingers alternately for levels and one-shot bosses (those that time out quickly). My poor thumb was used solely to give me a break on bosses that move back and forth indefinitely (the dragons, the skeletons, the orbiting satellites). And always with button C.

The Sega Saturn port doesn't offer any regular continues, so once you get a GAME OVER it's back to the start. However, if you manage to get through the bonus stages you can continue from there, and that's a welcome means of practicing the hardest levels later in the game. There's a "time trial" thing to be activated in the options, but I have absolutely no idea of what it does besides adding a useless 60s timer on the first stage. One cool aspect of Space Harrier on the Saturn is that everything that's present in the Japanese disc is also included in the Sega Ages bundle released in the US, down to the automatically saved high scores and options. This package does seem to be like three discs in one, which is neat.

My 1CC result below was a pretty dramatic one. In the end I had only one life to get through stage Nark (17), a very nasty place to wander around if you decide to venture into the Fantasy Zone. I wished Opa-Opa had been there to give me a hand, but alas! I played with no turbofire on Normal difficulty.


  1. I find that I can keep up button mashing for a reasonable time, but something about it divides my attention. I've been playing Darius Plus, and one day I turned off the turbo switches just to see how it plays. I don't know why, but I had a harder time following what happened in the game! My shooting was fine, but my dodging was sloppy. Thank god for those turbo switches.

    On the subject of Space Harrier, the PS2 remake (the one with polygons) has autofire that eventually slows down--like you wear it out. I always thought that was weird.

    1. Hello Greg.
      Doesn't the autofire in PS2 Space Harrier work in bullets bursts/streams?

      Now I'm curious because I haven't tried it yet.